A thin string of smoke rises to the air on the mountain. Then another and another and another. People are settling in for the long night ahead as the sun says its red goodbyes over the peak. They’re stupid. Letting them know exactly where they are. Making it easy for them. Like killing an ant. Around me, smarter people hide under the trees and next to the rocks as the long grass of the field keep guard. A small river breaks the field into two. It runs with a steady stream of water only interrupted by the occasional floating, rotting island. A year ago people would have cared. They would have tried to get them out, but know it just seems like a task that would waste energy and make too much noise. Rubble and remnants of structures that were once houses line both sides of the street that was once a home. Up closer to the mountain, I know, stand another, collapsed and empty. A creative mailbox would have proudly displayed its number as 831. 831 26th Avenue, Rietfontein, Pretoria. I can still remember my address. Useless, I guess, but it is like a memento of yesterday. Just a piece of it that can’t be stolen or ‘forced-extracted’.

“Why are you standing in the middle of the street,” I hear a voice from behind me say, “Aren’t we going in there?”

I look around to find her standing behind me, a frown settled on her brow and a look pointing past me to a bare, concrete structure. “Maybe it would be better to sleep in the field,” I say, “Safer.”

She doesn’t even take time to think about it. Her brow frowns and her lips pull tight.

“Boetie!”she says, the word still as innocent in her mouth as ever, “You promised we wouldn’t be sleeping in a field again. You know I hate the…”

“The rats and the spiders and the snakes,” I finish for her, “And the crickets and the grass sticking to everything.” I look to her with a grin.

“Well I do,” she says and walk closer to me, “Please can we just sleep in there?”

I know we shouldn’t. The field will hide us from troublemakers and FFE troupes. The structure won’t. I listen for a familiar crackling sound, but none meets with my ears and I let a sigh escape from my lungs. She still stares at me with those big, blue eyes. The same ones my mother used against me to do the dishes.

“Fine,” I finally give in, “but just because it’s your birthday, Anne. Tomorrow we’re sleeping in the field and you’re cuddling the rats, Okay?” She laughs and pushes past me.

“Race you there!”

The structure is cold. A breeze runs around its corners and whistles at the next. No one else occupies the destroyed space and we walk towards a section that still has some of its roof intact. I set our bag down and point Anne towards the floor under the roof. A few tiles still managed to survive their cracked siblings. She does as I instruct and I decide to take a look around before settling in myself. Here and there something different peaks through the normal piles of rubble. A television, its screen broken, lies next to a shopping cart with only two of its wheels left. The television once would have shown his face declaring war against anyone that opposed him or he simply didn’t like. It would have shown those first few months drenched in red and it would have shown the week that the bombs started destroying everything. I walk back to Anne where she sits rummaging through the bag. She looks up as I come closer.

“Where’s the juice box I found?” she asks.

“I gave it to that kid remember,” I say knowing she wouldn’t. I didn’t tell her.

“Not again,” she moans, “You always give our stuff away.”

“We have enough. Bread and water. Those kids don’t even have brothers or sisters like we have. Right?” Her lips tighten again, but I don’t let the frown climb back up her forehead. I tickle her and she falls on her back laughing.

“Shhh,” I say lowering my voice, “We’re making too much noise.” I laugh at her and then help her upright. Then I reach into the bag and pull out two slices of bread and a bottle of water. We sit there, eating in silence as the moon takes over the shift from the sun.

“Boetie,” she says after a few bites, “Do you think Mom and Dad would have been here if I didn’t cry?”

I sigh. She always asks this and I always give her the same answer.

“Mom and Dad died protecting us. They wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.”

“I still remember her smell, you know?”

“I know. Me too,” I breathe in the night air and she mimics me, “It’s getting late. You better sleep. We’re going over the mountain tomorrow.”

She takes the last bit of bread into her mouth and lies her head down on the bag as she chews the last bits.

“Happy birthday, Anne.”

That night as the moon kept rising and the air became colder my eyes shot open at the sound of a familiar crackling.

Speak Your Mind


Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.